Overcoming the pains of digital adolescence

A fitness tracking site recently published a global heat map, causing some uproar. What can we learn from from it?

The fitness tracking site Strava recently published a global heat map, causing some uproar. The maps showed areas where its users exercised over the last years. Cool stuff. However, in those same patterns, troops had tracked their own activity in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, unwittingly disclosing outlines of routes to and from military bases. Obviously, those troops didn’t mean for their data to be blasted into the open, nor did Strava have any malicious intent.

What it does show, however, is the continued growing pains of a booming data economy. CA Technologies CEO Mike Gregoire, stated in a recent WEF blog post, “we have reached our digital adolescence, but given the inevitability of technology in our lives, we need to consider how to evolve a more mature relationship with it.” As organizations increasingly become “modern software factories,” pushing out new features and applications, they will increasingly need to focus on privacy and security impacts if they want to retain user trust.

As we go through this maturation of technology in our lives, issues like the Strava map will continue to appear. Organizations (both public and private), will need to learn from these mishaps but also pro-actively invest in privacy and security.

Therefore, to me, the Strava case highlights 3 lessons:

1. People (and organizations) will share – well, that is an obvious one. It is clear that many users are increasingly open to share data with providers, both personal, anonymous as well as pseudonymous data (will go into more detail in another blog post). In many cases there is a clear intent from the user to do so, seeing the benefits of such sharing. Sharing data with peers around the world, pushing your athletic limits in the Strava case, is just one example. In many cases, users share but don’t really know the extent and impact of that sharing. There needs to be an increased responsibility on behalf of providers to be transparent about data practices.

2. Imagine the imaginable… this is call for a stronger “Privacy by design” focus – organizations will need to ensure they have a strong process in place internally as they develop new services/products to assess potential impacts on the privacy of their users.

3. …and the unimaginable: the difficulty will be to stretch the organization’s imagination beyond intended use cases and look at other creative ways their data might be used, both internally as well as externally. Some organizations might disagree and say they can’t foresee unintended scenarios. In my opinion, whether they agree or disagree is irrelevant. What matters is what users think, and they will demand an increased responsibility and accountability in the marketplace. Organizations therefore will be pushed to expand their imagination, both regarding impact on privacy as well as security.

We will all need to move through digital adolescence concerning the role of technology in our lives. New technologies will continue to emerge and move through their own development stages from birth to obsolescence. But we need to have a maturity ourselves in the ways we deal with these challenges. Modern software factories engrain that maturity into their DNA and gain and maintain the trust of their users. As the Strava map showed, this will be a journey.


Christoph Luykx
Christoph is the global Chief Privacy Strategist, responsible for CA’s views and global strategy on…


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